An Abrupt Change in Leadership at Fisk University in Nashville


With the academic year in its infancy, the board of trustees of historically Black Fisk University in Nashville announced that Vann R. Newkirk was removed as president, effective immediately. No reason was given for Dr. Newkirk’s departure. Charles Sims the chair of the board of trustees was named acting president.

In a statement, Sims said “The board of trustees is charged with ensuring that Fisk University continue to excel as a leading academic institution and that our future is defined by a shared vision and set of values. The board unanimously agreed that the next chapter in the Fisk future calls for new leadership. We thank Dr. Newkirk for his service and wish him well in his future endeavors. We look forward to conducting a thorough and extensive search process for our next president.“

In making the announcement the board said that over the past six years the university has experienced “unprecedented growth in several key areas resulting in four consecutive years of operational surpluses.” This included “five consecutive years of fundraising records and four consecutive years of enrollment growth.” Thus, the cause for the removal of the president is a mystery.


Dr. Newkirk was named provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fisk University in 2018 and became president in February 2021. Prior to coming to Fisk, he was provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs and a professor of history at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina. Prior to that, Dr. Newkirk served as associate provost and dean of the graduate school at Alabama A&M University.

Dr. Newkirk holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Barber-Scotia College in Concord, North Carolina, a master’s degree from Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, a master’s degree from North Carolina Central University in Durham, and a Ph.D. in history from Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Sims retired in 2008 from Cargill, Inc. where he led major strategic business segments both in the United States and internationally. He previously served as interim president of the university from 2015 to 2017.


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    • I concur. There has been so much growth at Fisk since Dr. Newkirk has begun his tenure, enrollment is on the rise, new buildings have been erected on campus. The latter has not happened in decades. It was so encouraging to know the enrollment had soared to over 1,000. The freshman class of 2o26 is bigger than it has been in years. What would prompt the Board of Trustees to make such an idiotic decision…at the beginning of a new semester of instruction?

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